Sunday, October 19, 2008

A day as any other - where is the violence?

Today, I'll leave the floor to Sami Awad - a Palestinian Christian leader and teacher of non-violence - to report a "small incident" which happened 3 days ago near Bethlehem. What is described here would be outrageous (a "big deal") if it happened to, for example, to French or American citizens. If it happened to Jews anywhere in the world, as it has too often, the world would be right to be outraged and cry foul. Certainly democratic nations would stop supporting the country which would allow this. But somehow, when it happens to Palestinians, it's a "small incident" as far as life in the West Bank is concerned, where Israel enforces a state of selective lawlessness beyond scrutiny and accountability it seems. I am not being rhetorical, I think my language is precisely descriptive. Before letting you read and judge for yourself, I must say I am amazed that people like Sami and others will endure and keep on struggling, choosing non-violence, and loving their enemy. Blessed are the Peacemakers? I hope.
When Settlers get Abusive, Israeli Soldiers Attack the Abused, but the Sun Shines on All by Sami Awad [click on the title to visit Sami's blog.]

On Thursday the 16th of October, hundreds of Israeli settlers / squatters gathered in a Palestinian hill known as Oush Gurab located in Beit Sahour (Shepherd’s Filed). This location was used for many years as an Israeli military outpost. Palestinians who live in its vicinity recall daily the violence and terror they experienced from Israeli soldiers stationed there. When the location lost its strategic advantage to the illegal separation barrier, the Israeli military evacuated the location. They no longer had to be in the middle of a Palestinian residential area, they can move to the other side of the prison walls now. After the evacuation, Palestinians returned to Oush Gurab and began working on numerous humanitarian and recreational projects including a children’s hospital and an outdoor activity park.

The aim of these settlers / squatters who showed up on this Thursday was to stop all Palestinian activity there and eventually confiscate this hill and build a new settlement. If built, the settlement will violate the policy of the Israeli government and military for this area. The irony of the matter is that for the settlers it does not matter, their movement is above policy and above the law and it is so strong that the Israeli government, military and police are bound to not only “protect” the settlers when they show up in such high numbers but to facilitate their agenda before political pressure is applied.

To confirm the rightful Palestinian ownership of Oush Gurab and as a sign of protest to the illegal presence of the settlers, a small group of Palestinian and international activists began a walk around the location to monitor the environmental damage that was being caused in the area where open sewage pounds are forming. The Israeli military is not allowing the Palestinian Authority to treat waist water there. The trip also included monitoring of wild life (especially birds) in that area. Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh from Bethlehem University led the group and explained the environmental disaster that was taking place there.

We were quickly followed by several Israeli soldiers who interrupted our walk and asked us to leave, admitting that they had no order to stop us, we continued our walk and reached a side dirt road that was being used by the settlers to go up the hill. Hundreds of settlers were there accompanied by Israeli soldiers and police.

As we stood there, some settlers began to taunt and curse us and then one took his machine gun, pointed it straight at us and yelled “Go him you F—ks or I will kill every one of you.” The Israeli soldiers smiled and one simply asked him to leave, but he just stood there. This reminded me of an incident a few weeks ago in the same location when Marwan from our office was attacked by a settler. The settler threw a boulder in the middle of Marwan’s back (still getting treatment). When he went to one of the Israeli captains and complained, the captain asked Marwan if he had done anything in retaliation, Marwan said no. The Israeli captain smiled and told Marwan “good, you would have been in deep trouble” and walked away.

We made it a clear intention not to talk to or respond to the settlers in any way, but the abuse and threat of the settlers was getting louder and it either became too much for the soldiers or it provoked them enough to attack us instead of controlling the settlers and asking them to leave the area (which they could have easily done).

It began with immediate pushing and shoving even though by that time we were ready to leave, but as we began to move back they jumped to arrest one person who was walking just behind me in what may have been a slower manner. I tried to grab him only to be chocked by a very large policeman and had my arms twisted by another Israeli soldier. As I was trying with incredible difficulty to take one breath I saw how they engaged in all out attack on what truly was a small group that was not there to confront.

I was thrown to the ground, arms pulled behind me and tied with plastic handcuffs that only become tighter with any movement. With this, and even though there was no intention on my part to move and I informed them of this, the same police officer seemed to have felt that he had just hunted down a big game in the jungles of Africa and wanted to show off to his friends and settlers, so he put his foot on my side as a sign of victory.

I was then taken and thrown to the side of the road where the settlers were walking and eventually six others, one Palestinian and five international, joined me. From there, they took us to an area away from the main roads and while remaining in handcuffs demanded (some of them with extreme foul language) to keep our heads down and not talk, even threatening to tie one person’s head to his feet. The only reason he was moving was because he was badly hurt in his neck and back.

After a few hours in the same position and with the same handcuffs, one captain who knew me from previous nonviolent actions came and told me of their intention to let us go. The captain tried to convince me that he was releasing us because of me, but I can not and will not allow such a statement to take any value in my life. The reason; while his knowledge of my commitment to nonviolence may have helped and may have even created in him and his superiors some acknowledgment and respect, my task is not to allow him to place this as a burden on me and have it become a tool he or others may use in the future to try and hinder my commitment and resolve; the most complimenting of statements combined with the slightest of an improper intention can lead to the most detrimental results. So my task is to push and challenge him even more now not with the intention of having him declare his approval or disapproval of what I do, but with the intention to truly free him from his own handcuffs and shackles.

At the end of the day, they released most of us because (in my opinion) they truly had no reason to keep us. They kept one of the international volunteers and drove of with him in a police car. The reason was never made clear to us.

A moment before that same captain came to me to inform me of their decision; the sun began to set behind Bethlehem and the beams were breaking through some white and gray clouds. There was a slight and beautiful chill from the autumn air. I gave thanks for that beautiful day and for the fact that the sun does not know Palestinian from Israeli, Christian from Muslim or Jew, and Asian from American or African, and I asked myself, if the sun shines on all of us as one, how much more does the sun’s creator see and love us all as one?


Visit Sami Awad's blog by clicking here.
Visit Holy Land Trust by clicking here.
Picture caption: Israeli settlers attack a Palestinian photographer during an olive harvest in the occupied West Bank, 18 Oct 2008 (picture released by Active Stills). Source: Voice of America.
click to Read the Herald Tribune report of a similar incident-- there are dozens such exactions every week.

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